Dr Mouse's Adventures in Science

I love science and travel and love to talk about both!

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iMUSH-putting the pieces together

Volunteers+texan dataloggers+geophones=data is the basic equation, but the pieces are so much more complex than just that.


Pnina and a Texan-geophone combo (can you tell this isn't near Mt St Helens?)

Pnina and a Texan-geophone combo (can you tell this isn’t near Mt St Helens?)




Each station is comprised of one Reftek 125A (aka a Texan) datalogger (in the bag) with 2 D-cell batteries inside for power, as well as one 4.5Hz Geospace geophone (the orange contraption).






We dig a hole, usually using a pickaxe since the hole is more of a small trench,


Sowing a geophone to eventually reap seismic data!

Sowing a geophone to eventually reap seismic data!


and then plant the geophone into the ground using its spike.  Next bury the Texan (wrapped in the plastic) next to it (after they are connected to each other of course!)

Texan in a bag to help keep it safe and dry

Texan in a bag to help keep it safe and dry


We try to hide the stations, but not so well that we can't find them again. Often a metal detector comes to the rescue when that happens

We try to hide the stations, but not so well that we can’t find them again. Often a metal detector comes to the rescue when that happens

We cover the entire instrumentation package up and viola!  An active source seismic station waiting for seismic waves to roll on in!



Above is a rough shot-gather of a planned man-made explosion that was detonated near Woodland, WA. It was about the size of a 2.2 magnitude earthquake and above you can see the seismic arrivals and some of our Texan stations.

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iMUSH – Active source science

Ok, so I am stationed in Woodland, Washington, USA for a large experiment on Mt St Helens. As I have said before, these operations take lots and lots of people.  The PIs, the grad and undergrad students, tens of volunteers, the shooters, and PASSCAL.


The PIs for this one are Alan Levander

Alan Levander at Rice University (image sourced from news.rice.edu)









and Eric Kiser (his Harvard page) at Rice University.


Eric Kiser, currently at Rice University, co-PI of iMUSH Active Source project

Eric Kiser (currently at Rice University), co-PI of iMUSH Active Source project

They call all of the shots for this one, including arranging the shooting of explosives by colleagues from the University of Texas at El Paso, headed by Steve Harder.  Check out this post with updated info on the shooting as well as links to some near-realtime feeds where you can watch the waves appear after the explosions (here – warning, means staying up very late for the realtime!)

Shot map from iMUSH project blog page






The basics are we are installing about 2600 high-frequency geophones around Mt St Helens. We are doing this twice.  This feat will be completed by a swarm of volunteers from all over the United States as well as from Europe and South America.  Did I mention they are all volunteers? They get some travel money, per diem and a hotel room to stay in. They get trained and given a rental vehicle. Then they are entrusted with seismic equipment and some gps points to find and away they go!  Most drive all over the place, but four teams (with two people each) drive to hiking trailheads and then hike 10+ miles per day while carrying their equipment (and water and snacks and sunscreen!) on their backs.  AND, most of them aren’t doing it for their own research or academic gain. They get something for their resume, experience, and hopefully lots of funny stories (‘the fifth flat tire!’), new friends, and great memories.  I am always amazed by them!


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iMUSH – Woodland Instrument Center

Hello and welcome to more field work!  This time I am in Washington State for an active source project (one where they set up explosives and I help program and download small dataloggers that are paired with high frequency vertical seismometers to record the blasts).  This one is called Imaging Magma Under St Helens (iMUSH).

Photo from Alan Levander and Eric Kiser's training presentation

Photo from Alan Levander and Eric Kiser’s training presentation


Here are some pages set up by the folks who dreamed up and are executing this project as well as some recent news stories!

http://imush.org/  (also see their Press Reports page)

ETZ – What’s brewing deep underground

News article in Nature by @alexwitze


The entire project will run several years, but my piece in this is just the active source section that will run about 3 weeks.  I hope to say more about the rest in a separate post, but let me start chatting about this part…

I am on this project representing my job, at the IRIS PASSCAL Instrument Center.  I am here in Washington with two of my co-workers, Lloyd Carothers and Katyliz Anderson and our summer intern, Federica Lanza.  We all flew yesterday from New Mexico to Portland, Oregon and then drove up to either Castle Rock, WA (Lloyd and Fede) or Woodland, OR (KL and me).  Lloyd and Fede will be based out of Castle Rock the entire time, but KL and I will only be in Woodland for about two weeks.


This morning, we got the keys to our instrument center!

Empty without our boxes and tables set up!

Empty without our boxes and tables set up!










Looks nice, right?


Now let’s add a bunch of boxes on pallets…

Lots of boxes!

Lots of boxes!









And set up a Texan Instrument center!

Everything is set up, but we aren't using the stations in this photo

Everything is set up, but we aren’t using the stations in this photo











This will be by home-away-from-home (work-away-from-work?) for two weeks.  Looks like fun!




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Ethiopia-First Day…in 2006

I woke up at about 8:30am local time, deciding that after 8:30 would be a reasonable time to call our local contact and issue a distress call!  I called Sisay to let him know where I was so somebody could come a pick me up. I spoke to him briefly and then sat down to my first breakfast in Ethiopia.  I had a tomato omelet, some toast, and coffee with milk.  (ok, so the photo is coffee without milk!)



You have probably heard of Ethiopian coffee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coffee – I like the word history of “borrowed from Arabic qahwa, a truncation of qahhwat al-bun ‘wine of the bean'”).  I expect I will be drinking a lot of coffee on this trip and here was cup #1!  After breakfast, I returned to my room to read more about Ethiopia.  Just as I was falling back alseep, a hotel staff member knocked on my door to let me know I was needed at reception (no phones in the rooms).  My ride was here, huzzah!

I packed my bags and we (Diego, Sisay, and me) were off to Addis Ababa University, Faculty of Science campus, Institute of Geophysics, Space Science and Astronomy.

Our office away from home

Our office away from home

There we met Sisay’s advisor: Dr Atale Ayele.  As a group we talked briefly about the plan for the project.  How would the next three weeks (for me) be spent, where we would be working, as well as the status of the availability of the equipment  (still in customs!)  We also decided that Diego and I should move to a hotel closer to the campus, the Addis View Hotel (http://addisviewhotel.com/index.html). Soon the first of our two hired cars showed up. A relatively new, gold Toyota Land Rover with a roof rack for carrying extra stuff.

Our gold chariot!

Our gold chariot!


Solomon, who works for the car rental company, will be driving car number 1 and about 13 years ago, he  drove for, and worked with seismologists from the University of Bristol on the the Ethiopia Afar Geoscientific Lithospheric Experiment (EAGLE http://www1.gly.bris.ac.uk/~ibastow/EAGLE.html).  He drove us to our new hotel and then we returned to the university.  After a nice walk to a nearby cafe, we got our first taste of traditional Ethiopian food during Lent.  More on that along with photos soon!

Culture note: about 43% of Ethiopians are in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  They did not change to the revised Gregorian calendar in 1582 (like a lot of the rest of the world did) and so the country still follows an Alexandrian/Coptic calendar of 13 months per year (12 months of 30 days and a thirteenth month of 5 or 6 days depending on if it is a leap year or not),  As a result, right now it is the 15 of March 2014 to most of the world. But since the start of the Ethiopian calendar is in our September, it is actually the 5th day of the 7th month (Megabit) in the year 2006.  Some of our expense receipts have the 2006 date on them and we hope this doesn’t cause any problems getting reimbursed!  (Some info on calendar came from this site: http://www.selamta.net/Ethiopian%20Calendar.htm)

More culture and stories!  A friend from Penn State, Ellen Currano,  recently had a long stay in Ethiopia and she blogged a bit about it.  She has some neat photos and great stories!  Here is the first post in the Ethiopia series http://ellencurrano.me/blog/the-closing-of-the-airplane-door/

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Ethiopia-The unexpected backup

So, I am at the airport at what is now 2am, with no ride to the hotel I booked at room at.  In retrospect, I was lucky that I had tried two different hotels when emailing about reservations.  I had a confirmed reservation with hotel #1, the one that wasn’t there to pick me up.  But!  Hotel #2 was present, with a gentleman waiting outside baggage claim with a sign with my name on it.  I can’t tell you how good a feeling that is to see, when you get off the last plane in a long series of flights and are expecting to be picked up.  Now, I didn’t immediately go to them because they had never confirmed the booking with me and I wanted to go to the place that had confirmed (plus I was hoping that Diego had been picked up by the right hotel, Hotel #1)  But, now with no ride from #1, I hopped in the truck with #2 and…off to the hotel!

The Itegue Taitu Hotel (www.taituhotel.com) is the city’s oldest hotel, build in 1907 for the Empress Taitu (wife of Emperor Menelik II).  It is a grand old hotel with some beautiful architecture and large rooms (see photo below).  The dining room is very nice and they have a terraced patio.  The food is pretty good too!  After paying for my shuttle and the first night of hotel, I settled into bed around 3am local time.  I had no idea where Diego was, but I would worry about that in the morning!


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Arrival in Ethiopia

After all of those flights, I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at about 1:20am on 6 March. The flights went well, and the food was surprisingly good! Pesto pasta on the transatlantic, something else good on the way to Turkey, and then caprese sandwiches on the Turkish Airlines flight! Yay!

I got off the plane, and then made my way to passport control. As I was looking up the address for my hotel, the power went out. And then came back on pretty quickly. But as I was searching my bag, I see that the lady behind the desk has her head down. After I finish rummaging around, I wait for her to look up…but she doesn’t! I ask something like, “do you still need the address?” And she kind of jumps in her seat and starts apologizing for having fallen asleep! Wow!

Next was baggage claim and all of my bags arrived. Then customs went ok. Then out to the main terminal where I am supposed to find the hotel kiosk and ask for a shuttle ride. Now, when I emailed about reservations, I tried to make it perfectly clear that I was arriving at 1am European time (more on European vs. Ethiopian time in a future post). I thought everything was ok. I was wrong. No shuttle waiting to pick me up, and no kiosk for me to find. I tried calling the hotel number from the US cell phone (that will be a fun bill!) and nobody picked up. A female taxi driver looked up the number she said was for my hotel’s driver and nobody picked up there either. Crap.

What now?

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Sleepy in Amsterdam

Soooooo, I have been up almost continuously since 5am on 4 March. Not even 24 hours yet, but I’m feeling sleepy. I flew from Albuquerque, NM to Minneapolis. Spent about 4.5 hours there before flying to Amsterdam where I have been for about 3.5 hours (another 2 hours to go). Next stop, Istanbul for three hours. There I need to collect my bags and then check-in on a Turkish Airways flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Helllloooo field work!

It is a part of my job that I really enjoy, but when I am tired it is easy to ask myself “Why am I doing this again?” I have about three weeks of field work coming, mostly in northwest Ethiopia:


All of the red circles with a little squiggle (seismogram) inside is a potential site for a broadband seismometer. We will be installing 30 of them. “We” in this case are four scientists and two drivers. There is me, Diego Quiros from Cornell, Yelebe Birhanu from University of Montana, and Sisay Alemayehu from Addis Ababa University. If they ok it, I will have photos of them soon!

Diego arrives this evening and I arrive at 1am tonight/tomorrow evening. We’ll try to get some sleep and then get to work testing all of the equipment to make sure it survived shipment from New Mexico to Ethiopia!